Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Brother Fred Among the Terrorists

Tanger, Morocco—Having passed the night in Gibraltar, Vi and I took the ferry across the Strait to Tanger in a state of grave trepidation, I more than she. We were going into the dark heartland of Islamic barbarity. I knew what Moslems were, having listened to the Republican candidates for the presidency, and I was obviously an American. There was no doubt about it: They would hate me for my freedoms, and perhaps blow me up. Yet such was my passion for journalism that I was going to risk it. I am that sort of man.

The day was mercifully warm after the chill greyness of Madrid, the sky blue and cloudless. The other passengers in the lounge were mostly Arabs. I watched them carefully. I knew that at any moment they might draw their scimitars and behead me for my freedoms.

We docked at the Port of Tanger, passed through passport control with suspicious ease, and caught a taxi for the long ride along the coast to Tanger proper. The driver was named Abdulah. I would soon conclude that all Moslems were named Abdullah. He was a roundish balding fellow in his mid-forties and looked as though he should have been a pizza chef in Brooklyn but had somehow missed his calling. He liked to talk and did so in good if not elegant Spanish.

Yes, he said, times were bad. The economy was wretched. In Morocco the politicians were corrupt bastards, he said, which was the root of the problem. I said that we had the same difficulty in the United States. Violeta, not inclined to allow Mexico to be diminished by comparison, asserted that her country's cabrones politicos were as corrupt as any that Abdulah and I might present in evidence. Having established our common humanity, we rode on in peace. I'm not sure Abdulah even had a scimitar.
Read the rest here.

Scenes from the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts

Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral Feb 29th 2012 (NS)

Scenes from the consecration of the Church of St. Demetrius the Great Martyr

Forgiveness Sunday 2012

All areas of the country show growth, Fed reports

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. economy started the year off well with busier factories, higher retail sales, more jobs and growth in home sales.

The Federal Reserve said Wednesday that all 12 of its banking districts reported some level of growth in January and the first half of February.

Manufacturing output rose in all districts. Auto manufacturing, steel makers and other metal producers all reported solid growth.

Home sales increased in at least half of the districts, a notable improvement from the Fed's last report in January. Sales are expected to climb further in four districts. And six districts reported rising construction of apartments.
Read the rest here.

Still way too early to sound the "all clear" siren.  But yes, there is undeniably some good news out there.

Senior Fed Official: Top 5 banks should be broken up

The five biggest banks in the United States are too powerful and should be broken up, Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher said on Wednesday.

"After the crisis, the five largest banks had a higher concentration of deposits than they did before the crisis," he said. "I am of the belief personally that the power of the five largest banks is too concentrated."

The U.S. Dodd-Frank reform and consumer protection act includes mechanisms for regulators to break up large financial companies, but imposes high hurdles for such action.

"The purpose of Dodd-Frank was to reduce the concentration of power and we have a term called 'too big to fail'... perversely, these banks are now even bigger, they are too 'bigger' to fail than before."
Read the rest here.

A rather rare moment where I agree with something coming out of the Federal Reserve.  I have been arguing for the breakup of the megabanks since before the 2008 financial crisis.

Roman Catholic Priest Refuses Communion to Practicing Lesbian

There is a huge brouhaha that seems to be gaining steam following the decision of a Roman Catholic priest to refuse communion to an openly practicing homosexual woman who introduced her paramour to the priest shortly before her mother's funeral mass.  Reports on exactly what happened and in what order are contradictory.  And now the press has gotten hold of the story and the political left as also all the gay rights people are going nuts.

This is making the rounds on the web but the best coverage, with comments running into the hundreds, appears to be over at The Deacons Bench where there are multiple posts up on the subject.

For the record I am very sympathetic to the priest in this case.  He was right in principal, but it sounds like he probably should have handled the situation a bit more tactfully.  And now there is an effort underway by the usual suspects to have him lynched.

Killing babies no different from abortion, experts say

Parents should be allowed to have their newborn babies killed because they are “morally irrelevant” and ending their lives is no different to abortion, a group of medical ethicists linked to Oxford University has argued.

The article, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, says newborn babies are not “actual persons” and do not have a “moral right to life”. The academics also argue that parents should be able to have their baby killed if it turns out to be disabled when it is born.
Read the rest here.

Words fail me.

In rebuke of partisanship Sen. Olympia Snowe will not seek re-election

Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, the iconic Republican moderate from Maine, announced her retirement from the Senate on Tuesday, saying she would not seek a fourth term because political partisanship has made the Senate unproductive.

“Unfortunately, I do not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term,” Snowe said. “So at this stage of my tenure in public service, I have concluded that I am not prepared to commit myself to an additional six years in the Senate.”

Snowe has made a reputation, over 33 years in Congress, as someone eager to build political bridges between moderates from both parties. But in recent years, she has become an increasingly isolated voice in a Congress hobbled by partisan gridlock.
Read the rest here.

This will certainly complicate efforts by the GOP to retake the majority in the Senate.  There are not many Republicans left in New England thanks in part to the Tea Party types and she was one of perhaps two who held safe Senate seats.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Romney holds on in Michigan

It was probably closer than Mitt Romney would have liked. But he did win in Michigan tonight, and he did so by a wide enough margin that it can't be called a statistical tie.  Ron Paul came in 3rd with about 12% and Newt Gingrich finished in the cellar with only about 7% of the vote.  On a side note Arizona went for Romney by a wide margin.  The state was largely uncontested.

As polls close all eyes are on Michigan

Michigan is pretty close to a "must win" state for Mitt Romney.  It is his native state and one where his father was a very popular governor.  If he loses there in the wake of his weak showings in the last four primary/caucus contests it would be hugely embarrassing.  Further it would almost certainly call into question his status as the frontrunner and the nominee presumptive of the Republican Party.  In short, if Romney loses Michigan it could throw the entire primary season into chaos.

The most recent polls taken before voting began showed Romney with a very slight lead over his rival Rick Santorum.  But that lead is well within the margin of error and from a statistical perspective amounts to a tie.

A Correction

In the course of a follow up to an earlier post Father Andrew has discovered that the report about a wealthy banker leaving a 1% tip and an insulting message for his lunch waiter was a hoax.  It appears that the image of the receipt was doctored and the whole thing was fabricated by person or persons unknown.  Given the whole 1% vs the 99% class warfare theme however, it does not seem unreasonable to suspect this was a politically motivated lie.  Point in fact I strongly suspect it was a clever piece of  left wing propaganda.  I had considered taking the original post down, but have decided against for three reasons.  First, I intensely dislike removing posts from the blog and in fact have only done so once in the near six years of its existence.  Secondly, no one specifically was defamed and finally because as it stands now it is cautionary warning about the tactics employed by the far left.

I have often been a sharp critic of right wing extremism on this blog.  But it is well worth remembering that some in the radical left are not above making things up or just plain lying to advance their agenda.

New Book

Via Fr. Milovan word of a new book... "Challenges of Orthodox Thought and Life: Reflections on Christian Foundations and Living Traditions" by Hieromonk Calinic (Berger). This sounds like good reading material for Lent. Read the story on the book here.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Clean Week blogging slowdown

Lent has begun and blogging will be thin this week.  A blessed fast to all.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Fasting Rules for Lent

Many, perhaps most of the readers of Ad Orientem are Orthodox so for you this post is likely redundant. But others also stop by and the fasting rules of the Church can be a bit of a mystery to the non-Orthodox. So here is a quick and dirty guide to the fasting discipline during Lent.

First fasting is not a legalistic exercise. God does not particularly care how strictly you are able to observe a 5th century dietary code. Eating a Cheeseburger during Lent on a Friday is not a mortal sin (except possibly to your waistline). If you do eat one and happen to die before going to confession you do not need to plan on being buried in an asbestos suit. Point in fact very few Orthodox laymen keep the fast in its full rigor. I certainly have yet to keep the fast with anything close to perfection.

That said one should not just blow it off. Fasting is a spiritual discipline intended to stretch the body and help tame the passions. And it is a very important weapon in the spiritual warfare that we are engaged in more or less continuously until we die. So when you fall, don't give up. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back on the wagon.

Also it serves no purpose to abstain from all manner of food and drink if we do not also give up our vices.  In particular be wary of gossip.  Your fast is your own business and no one else's (save God's and your confessor's).  Likewise how others are keeping their fast is not your concern.

The Great Fast begins on Clean Monday (tomorrow) and continues until after Communion on Easter Sunday (Pascha). Technically Lent actually ends on the Saturday before Palm Sunday. But we continue to fast during Great and Holy Week.  What follows is from the website of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA).

"What “precisely do the rules of fasting demand? Neither in ancient nor in modern times has there ever been exact uniformity, but most Orthodox authorities agree on the following rules:
  1. During the week between the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee and that of the Prodigal Son, there is a general dispensation from all fasting. Meat and animal product may be eaten even on Wednesday and Friday.
  2. In the following week…the usual fast is kept on Wednesday and Friday. Otherwise there is no special fasting.
  3. In the week before Lent, meat is forbidden, but eggs, cheese and other dairy products (as well as fish) may be eaten on all days, including Wednesday and Friday.
  4. On weekdays (Monday to Friday inclusive) during the seven weeks of Lent, there are restrictions both on the number of meals taken daily and on the types of food permitted; but when a meal is allowed, there is no fixed limitation on the quantity of food to be eaten.
    1. On weekdays in the first week, fasting is particularly severe. According to strict observance, in the course of the five initial days of Lent, only two meals are eaten, one on Wednesday and the other on Friday, in both cases after the Liturgy of the Presanctified. On the other three days, those who have the strength are encouraged to keep an absolute fast; those for whom this proves impracticable may eat on Tuesday and Thursday (but not, if possible, on Monday), in the evening after Vespers, when they may take bread and water, or perhaps tea or fruit-juice, but not a cooked meal. It should be added at once that in practice today these rules are commonly relaxed. At the meals on Wednesday and Friday xerophagy is prescribed. Literally this means ‘dry eating’. Strictly interpreted, it signifies that we may eat only vegetables cooked with water and salt, and also such things as fruit, nuts, bread and honey. In practice, octopus and shell-fish are also allowed on days of xerophagy; likewise vegetable margarine and corn or other vegetable oil, not made from olives. But the following categories of food are definitely excluded:
      1. meat;
      2. animal products (cheese, milk, butter, eggs, lard, drippings);
      3. fish (i.e., fish with backbones);
      4. oil (i.e., olive oil) and wine (i.e., all alcoholic drinks).
    2. On weekdays (Monday to Friday inclusive) in the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth weeks, one meal a day is permitted, to be taken in the afternoon following Vespers, and at this one meal xerophagy is to be observed.
    3. Holy Week. On the first three days there is one meal each day, with xerophagy; but some try to keep a complete fast on these days, or else they eat only uncooked food, as on the opening days of the first week. On Holy Thursday one meal is eaten, with wine and oil (i.e., olive oil). On Great Friday those who have the strength follow the practice of the early Church and keep a total fast. Those unable to do this may eat bread, with a little water, tea or fruit-juice, but not until sunset, or at any rate not until after the veneration of the [Plashchanitsa] at Vespers. On Holy Saturday there is in principle no meal, since according to the ancient practice after the end of the Liturgy of St. Basil the faithful remained in church for the reading of the Acts of the Apostles, and for their sustenance were given a little bread and dried fruit, with a cup of wine. If, as usually happens now, they return home for a meal, they may use wine but not oil; for on this one Saturday, alone among Saturdays of the year, olive oil is not permitted.
The rule of xerophagy is relaxed on the following days:
  1. On Saturdays and Sundays in Lent, with the exception of Holy Saturday, two main meals may be taken in the usual way, around mid-day and in the evening, with wine and olive oil; but meat, animal products and fish are not allowed.
  2. On the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25) and Palm Sunday fish is permitted as well as wine and oil, but meat and animal products are not allowed….
  3. Wine and oil are permitted on the following days, if they fall on a weekday in the second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth week: [First and Second Finding of the Head of St. John the Baptist (Feb. 24), Repose of St. Raphael (Feb. 27), Holy Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (Mar. 9), Forefeast of the Annunciation (Mar. 24), Synaxis of the Archangel Gabriel (Mar. 26), Repose of St. Innocent (Mar. 31), Repose of St. Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow (Apr. 7), Holy Greatmartyr and Victorybearer George (Apr. 23), Holy Apostle and Evangelist Mark (Apr. 25), as well as the Patronal Feast of the church or monastery].
  4. Wine and oil are also allowed on Wednesday and Thursday of the fifth week, because of the vigil for the Great Canon. Wine is allowed-and, according to some authorities, oil as well-on Friday in the same week, because of the vigil for the Akathist Hymn.
It has always been held that these rules of fasting should be relaxed in the case of anyone elderly or in poor health. In present-day practice, even for those in good health, the full strictness of the fast is usually mitigated…. On weekdays-except, perhaps, during the first week or Holy Week-it is now common to eat two cooked meals daily instead of one. From the second until the sixth week, many Orthodox use wine, and perhaps oil also, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and less commonly on Mondays as well. Permission is often given to eat fish in these weeks. Personal factors need to be taken into account, as for example, the situation of an isolated Orthodox living in the same household as non-Orthodox, or obliged to take meals in a factory or school [lunchroom]. In cases of uncertainty each should seek the advice of his or her spiritual father [emphasis mine].”

The following statement is extremely important to consider when we speak of fasting and fasting rules in the Church. “At all times it is essential to bear in mind that ‘you are not under the law but under grace’ (Rom. 6:14), and that ‘the letter kills, but the spirit gives life’ (2 Cor. 3:6). The rules of fasting, while they need to be taken seriously, are not to be interpreted with dour and pedantic legalism; ‘for the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Rom. 14:17).”

The aforementioned guidelines are just that and as with much of the Church's discipline your mileage will vary.  Expect some minor variations depending on ethnic and jurisdictional customs (i.e. The Greeks hold that the ban on oil applies only to olive oil, the Slavs tend to interpret that more broadly... For their part the Slavs often hold that beer is not wine and may be taken in moderation etc.).  Also the above rules are those applicable to the Byzantine Rite.  There are a small but growing number of Western Rite Orthodox Christians and their fasting discipline is different.  See here and here for the fasting rules for Antiochian WR and ROCOR's WR respectively.

On the Eve of the Great Fast

I humbly beg forgiveness for anything which I have said, done or failed to do, which may have caused hurt. Most particularly I ask your pardon for any anything I may have written or posted on this blog which was the source of injury or scandal. Please forgive me.

The Greatness of Ike

...In part, this underestimation is a result of the political persona Eisenhower cultivated — an amiable, grandfatherly facade that concealed a ruthless master politician. In part, it reflects the fact that his presidency has always lacked an ideological cheering section. Liberals (who preferred Adlai Stevenson) generally remember the Eisenhower administration as a parenthesis between heroic Democratic epochs, while conservatives (who favored Robert Taft) recall a holding pattern before their Goldwater-to-Reagan ascent.

But ultimately Eisenhower is underrated because his White House leadership didn’t fit the template of “greatness” that too many Americans pine for from their presidents. He was not a man for grand projects, bold crusades or world-historical gambles. There was no “Ike revolution” in American politics, no Eisen-mania among activists and intellectuals, no Eisenhower realignment.

Instead, his greatness was manifested in the crises he defused and the mistakes he did not make. He did not create unaffordable entitlement programs, embrace implausible economic theories, or hand on unsustainable deficits to his successors. He ended a stalemated conflict in Korea, kept America out of war in Southeast Asia, and avoided the kind of nuclear brinkmanship that his feckless successor stumbled into. He did not allow a series of Middle Eastern crises to draw American into an Iraq-style intervention. He did not risk his presidency with third-rate burglaries or sexual adventurism. He was decisive when necessary, but his successes — prosperity, peace, steady progress on civil rights — were just as often the fruit of strategic caution and masterly inaction.

Perhaps “other men” could have achieved this combination of steadiness, competence and successful crisis management, as the Eisenhower memorial’s impersonal design seems to suggest. But few of them have occupied the Oval Office these last 50 years. Instead, from the 1960s down through the eras of George W. Bush and Barack Obama — from “pay any price, bear any burden” to “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste” — the defining vices of the modern presidency have been hubris, recklessness and overreach.
Read the rest here.

On a side note the photos and video clip were taken from the 1956 GOP convention held in... San Francisco(!), where tens of thousands of people turned out to cheer a Republican president who rode through the streets of their city in an open touring car.

Update on Prayer Request

Thank you all so much for your prayers for the Wade family.  It appears that there has been a happy ending.  At the moment this looks to have been a case of an adolescent infatuation that got out of hand.  Sarah was found with her older boyfriend in a neighboring city and is quite safe, other than the prospect of being grounded for life plus twenty years.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Brewers’ Ryan Braun wins drug appeal

SURPRISE, Ariz. – Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun, the NL’s reigning most valuable player, won his appeal on Thursday of a 50-game suspension triggered by a positive drug test in October, a monumental decision that affects everything from the balance of power in the National League to the perceived legitimacy of baseball’s individual awards and the integrity of its drug-testing program.

“It is the first step in restoring my good name and reputation,” Braun said in a statement. “We were able to get through this because I am innocent and the truth is on our side.”

Braun, 28, is believed to be the first major league player to successfully win such an appeal — although other examples would not necessarily have come to light, since the process is designed to keep the player’s name secret unless the suspension is upheld. ESPN, citing two anonymous sources, first reported in December that Braun had tested positive for synthetic testosterone during the playoffs and would be suspended unless he wins an appeal.

A three-person arbitration panel consisting of MLB Executive Vice President Rob Manfred, union chief Michael Weiner and independent arbitrator Shyam Das voted 2-to-1 to sustain Braun’s appeal, with Das casting the decisive vote.
Read the rest here.

I like Ryan Braun and was very saddened when he was fingered for cheating last year.  As for this ruling, I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt since he won his appeal.  But the whole thing is leaving a bad taste in my mouth.  It sounds like he got off on a technicality.

Banker Leaves 1% Tip On $133 Lunch Bill In Defiance of 'The 99%' (UPDATE: IT WAS A HOAX)

A banker left a 1% tip in defiance of 'the 99%' at a Newport Beach restaurant the other week, according to his dining companion and underling who snapped a photo of the receipt and posted it to his blog, Future Ex Banker. (Update: the blog is now offline.)

In posting the photo, the employee gave some background on his boss and the receipt:

Mention the “99%” in my boss’ presence and feel his wrath. So proudly does he wear his 1% badge of honor that he tips exactly 1% every time he feels the server doesn’t sufficiently bow down to his Holiness. Oh, and he always makes sure to include a “tip” of his own.

The "tip" of his own in this case was to tell the server to "get a real job."
Read the rest here.

What a no-class bum!

Update: This was a hoax.  The image was doctored and the whole thing was a lie.  One can reasonably suspect that it was done by someone with a left wing political agenda.  In any case I am leaving this up as a cautionary reminder of the willingness of people to lie and fabricate to advance an agenda.

Debt will swell under top GOP hopefuls’ tax plans (but not Ron Paul)

The national debt would balloon under tax policies championed by three of the four major Republican candidates for president, according to an independent analysis of tax and spending proposals so far offered by the campaigns.

The lone exception is Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who would pair a big reduction in tax rates with even bigger cuts in government services, slicing about $2 trillion from future borrowing.
Read the rest here

Stockton bankruptcy first step likely

Just up the road...
STOCKTON - The City Council on Tuesday is expected to take its first step toward filing for bankruptcy in a dramatic move to remedy Stockton's crippling finances.

If bankruptcy ultimately happens, Stockton would be the nation's largest city to fall into Chapter 9 protection.

While city administrators remained silent on any plans, it became an open secret Wednesday. The Downtown Stockton Alliance board of directors in a public meeting discussed the city's bankruptcy timetable.

Also Wednesday, the San Joaquin and Calaveras counties Central Labor Council distributed an email, alerting its members that Stockton plans to begin the process at next week's council meeting. The email also invites its members to a meeting Monday to map their strategy for opposing bankruptcy. They won't be alone
Read the rest here.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Prayers please...

I beg your prayers dear readers for the Wade family who are friends of the Thatchers (Fr. David & Matushka Karen).  Last night their 14 yr old daughter Sarah vanished under highly suspicious circumstances.  The police are fully mobilized and have been searching with helicopters and hounds, but no leads as of this posting.  As you might imagine this is just about the worst nightmare of any family.

Lincoln's Mercy And Its Limits

On a frosty day in late February 1862, at a little past noon, 400 people stood solemnly within the stone-walled courtyard of the Tombs, New York City’s jail. Eighty were marines, dressed in Union blue and standing rigidly at attention with loaded rifles and fixed bayonets; the rest of the crowd consisted of reporters, politicians and observers who had cadged invitations to an unusual execution.

The condemned, flanked by government officials, was a small, dark-haired man in a black frock coat. His arms were pinioned, a black hood covered his face and a noose encircled his neck. He had been convicted of having “piratically, feloniously, and forcibly” captured “800 negroes, with intent to make them slaves.” His name was Nathaniel Gordon, and he was about to become the only man in American history to be executed for the crime of slave trading.

After Gordon’s conviction, his lawyers had exercised the one option open to them – a direct appeal to the president of the United States. The Constitution states that the president “shall have the power to grant reprieves and pardons.” And no president in the history of this nation has been so praised, or so criticized, for his use of the pardoning power as Abraham Lincoln. He was, to some, a man of compassion and mercy, to others, a sentimental meddler who continually undermined military discipline and the sanctity of the courts. But in this case the habitually merciful Abraham Lincoln withheld his customary clemency and allowed the execution to take place. Why?
Read the rest here.

A fascinating article on Lincoln's (in)famous penchant for granting pardons and reprieves to almost anyone with a sob story or who he just felt sorry for, and one of the few cases where he bluntly refused clemency and sent a man to the gallows.

How to Wear a Tux (or why do most men insist on dressing like a shlep?)

Warning, this article is not very flattering to the male of the species. Which is to say it offers some rather pointed and generally accurate observations about the way men tend to dress.
THIS Sunday, scores of men — some celebrated actors, others appendages to famous glamour-pusses — will expose themselves to the scrutiny of the world and, more alarmingly, Joan Rivers as they stride the red carpet at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood.

Most are likely to be clad in what is surely among the more foolproof dress uniforms ever devised: the tuxedo. Yet few will manage to get it right. Why is that?

“Men take advantage of their advantages in general,” Fran Lebowitz, the humorist and herself a tuxedo wearer, said recently. “But not with this.”

Despite being given what Ms. Lebowitz termed “this perfect thing to wear,” both stars and arm-pieces are certain to commit sartorial blunders at the Academy Awards. They will wear their pants too long and puddled on their shoes, as Brad Pitt did at the recent Screen Actors Guild awards. They will wear businesslike four-in-hand tie knots, as men like Robert De Niro routinely do, and not the requisite bow tie. They will turn up in suits that fit as though borrowed from Dad, or in shirts with wing collars best left to maîtres d’hôtel, or in colors that make them look like Steve Van Zandt.

“That whole black shirt thing is terrible,” said the designer John Varvatos. “When you’re talking about these kinds of awards shows, with the elegance of most of the women, the men should be a counterpoint to that.”

Often enough these men display their “renegade” natures by adding loopy improvisations: sneakers or Samuel L. Jackson frock coats or open-necked shirts.

They will monkey around in some way with monkey-suit perfection — unless, that is, they happen to be George Clooney. Mr. Clooney always looks Rat Pack immaculate.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Testimony of Genie Expert is Challenged

According to this report (via Overlawyered), in 2010 a Saudi defense lawyer demanded that a genie be summoned to testify in open court if the state intended to use its testimony against his client. The lawyer was concerned by the court's willingness to hear instead from a genie expert who said he had talked to the genie and would provide a report.
Read the rest here.

A bit dated, but amusing.

Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani Gets Final Execution Order

Iran has issued what could be the final execution order for Youcef Nadarkhani, the Christian pastor who was found guilty of renouncing Islam.

Nadarkhani has been waiting in limbo for this verdict for months. After turning down four separate chances to convert to Islam to save his life, Iranian officials delayed their sentencing, leaving the pastor to await his fate inside a cell in Iran's Gilan province. But now, Nadarkhani could be executed within days.

"They are threatening to execute a pastor who is, in my opinion, totally innocent," said U.S. Representative Joseph Pitts (R. - PA), who is sponsoring a congressional resolution to call for Nadarkhani's freedom.

"He's facing the threat of execution on false charges just because of his religious belief. He's willing to face the hangman's noose over this."

On Monday, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), an international Christian and human rights organization, discovered that Nadarkhani's "life is in imminent danger" and that "the situation has not been this dire" since the organization first learned of his arrest. While that first report did not go into specifics, the organization believes it has confirmed the execution order and that, at least as of Tuesday, Nadarkhani was still alive.
Read the rest here.

US troops now in 4 African countries to fight LRA

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- U.S. troops helping in the fight against a brutal rebel group called the Lord's Resistance Army are now deployed in four Central African countries, the top U.S. special operations commander for Africa said Wednesday.

The U.S. announced in October it was sending about 100 U.S. troops - mostly special operations forces - to Central

Africa to advise in the fight against the LRA and its leader Joseph Kony, a bush fighter wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

Rear Adm. Brian L. Losey, the top U.S. special operations commander for Africa, said the U.S. troops are now stationed in bases in Uganda, Congo, South Sudan and Central African Republic.
Read the rest here.

HT: Bill (aka The Godfather)

Romney, Obama release dueling tax overhaul proposals

Mitt Romney and President Obama released dueling tax overhaul proposals on Wednesday, touching off a fresh election-year debate over the federal deficit and the taxes paid by wealthy individuals and companies.

Romney proposed slashing individual income rates across the board by 20 percent, to lower the top tax rate to 28 percent from 35 percent, as part of a broad attempt at a policy reboot this week aimed at winning over his party’s conservative base.

Romney’s plan would cut all existing tax brackets by the same proportion, including cutting the lowest rate to 8 percent from 10 percent, and limit deductions for higher earners. Romney would also abolish estate taxes and the alternative minimum tax, and lower the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent.

Romney unveiled details of his proposal hours after Obama set forth his own vision for a major overhaul of the nation’s corporate tax code. Obama’s plan would lower the nation’s corporate tax rate to 28 percent. And Obama would boost overall revenue from corporate taxation by banning numerous deductions and loopholes that save companies tens of billions of dollars a year on their tax bills.

The current U.S. corporate tax rate of 35 percent is one of the highest in the world, but the abundance of loopholes and deductions enables many businesses to pay far less than that — or nothing at all. Companies in the United States pay almost half the taxes that companies in other rich countries pay, compared with the size of the economy, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Read the rest here.

When the only crime is having a common name

Samuel M. Jackson, of the Chicago area, already has it rough when it comes to name recognition.

But comparisons with the famous actor, Samuel L. Jackson, likely sounded wonderful to him after three other Samuel Jacksons got mixed up into his criminal background report. They're Samuel Jacksons all convicted of sex offenses, two of whom are currently in prison.

"He had a background check company that ran a background report that was grossly inaccurate. Almost laughably so if it wasn’t so outrageous," said attorney Chris Wilmes, who represented the job-seeking Jackson in a lawsuit against the background check company InfoTrack. "He had a background check report that suggested he was a serious, serious sex offender and that he had committed crimes that merited life in prison."

Wilmes said his client has no criminal record. His only fault? Having a common name.

"People with common names -- there is a significant risk that they’re going to get a background check that has nothing to do with them that shows a criminal record that doesn’t exist. And it is going to harm them when they are trying to get employment," according to Paul Strauss of the Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, who also worked on the case against InfoTrack.
Read the rest here.

Ash Wednesday

Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.

Lent has begun for the Christian West. A blessed fast to all.

Growing Air of Concern in Greece Over New Bailout

ATHENS — Even as the European Union signed off Tuesday on a sweeping new arrangement to help avert a Greek default and stabilize the euro, many people here on the streets saw no end to their country’s woes.

“They don’t want to kill us but keep us down on our knees so we can keep paying them indefinitely,” said Eva Kyriadou, 55, as she stood in a square in downtown Athens where the smell of tear gas and the smashed facades from last week’s violent riots still lingered.

Indeed, the deal was reached amid a growing air of stalemate and concern. Greece’s foreign lenders expressed doubts that the new austerity measures the Greek Parliament passed last week — including a 22 percent cut to the private-sector benchmark minimum wage — would actually be carried out, at least before early national elections as soon as April.

Others are concerned that in the fine print of the 400-plus-page document — which Parliament members had a weekend to read and sign — Greece relinquished fundamental parts of its sovereignty to its foreign lenders, the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

“This is the first time ever that a European and probably an O.E.C.D. state abdicates its rights of immunity over all its assets to its lenders,” said Louka Katseli, an independent member of Parliament who previously represented the Socialist Party, using the abbreviation for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. She was one of several independents who joined 43 lawmakers from the two largest parties in voting against the loan agreement.

Ms. Katseli, an economist who was labor minister in the government of George Papandreou until she left in a cabinet reshuffle last June, was also upset that Greece’s lenders will have the right to seize the gold reserves in the Bank of Greece under the terms of the new deal, and that future bonds issued will be governed by English law and in Luxembourg courts, conditions more favorable to creditors.

While their country’s fate is being decided in abstract, high-level negotiations in Brussels, Berlin and Paris as much as in Athens, many Greeks said they had begun to feel that the debt writedown and new loan is aimed at saving the banks more than the country and its citizens.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Episcopal "bishop" to make same sex marriage compulsory for clergy

In a note to the clergy on The Commemoration of Absalom Jones, [Bishop Charles] Bennison wrote to “clergy colleagues” saying, “I am very concerned that to date only 43 of us have registered for the Conference on Rites for Blessing Same – Gender Relationships on February 21- a week from tomorrow. This means that a large number of us may not be adequately prepared to respond pastorally, either to people’s reactions to this summer’s General Convention vote on rites proposed by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music in response to Resolution C-056 at the 2009 General Convention, or to same gender couples who may ask us to use the rites for the blessing of their relationships if, as seems likely, Convention adopts them.

“Unless the implementing resolution states otherwise, none of us, should we be asked to bless the relationship of a same-gender couple, may refuse to do so on the basis of their sexual orientation.”
Read the rest here.

Former Episcopalian Fr. Al Kimel (ROCOR-WRV) used to have some favorite quotes one of which was… “Where orthodoxy is optional, it will eventually be proscribed.”

Violence on the rise in piracy

LONDON — When tanker master Miro Alibasic takes one of his company's vast ships across the Indian Ocean, he likes to have all the firepower he can get on board.

Having seen last year how Somali pirates treat their captives, the 61-year-old is in no hurry to experience it again.

"It was hell on earth," he told Reuters by telephone from his home in the Croatian port of Dubrovnik.

The number of ships seized in the region by Somali pirates fell last year, industry data shows, but the overall number of attempted attacks continues to rise and the raids have become increasingly violent.

Breaking the piracy "business model" and tackling Somalia's onshore problems will be among the aims of a major international conference on Somalia in London on Thursday. But few are optimistic of a solution any time soon, and shippers say they must take matters into their own hands.

Greater use of private armed security guards on ships and a much tougher approach by international navies is beginning to work, some mariners, officials, contractors and military officers say. But others worry they may simply be fuelling a growing arms race, ramping up the conflict and producing a rising human and financial cost.
Read the rest here.

Happy Shrove (Fat) Tuesday

For Roman Catholics and those who follow the Roman Catholic calendar today is the last day before Lent.  In many parts of the Christian West it was traditionally observed with parties and large meals before entering the rigors of the Great Fast at midnight. 

GOP primaries enter critical stage; "must win" states for Romney

*** One week out: The next seven days until Michigan's primary may very well be the most important of Mitt Romney's political life. They could determine if he becomes the GOP nominee; if he does not; and if we might enter -- as we've described it before -- the political equivalent of Thunderdome, with either a "brokered" or "contested" convention in August. All of these things are on the line for Romney next Tuesday. And in between, he will have two big opportunities to right his campaign’s ship: 1) Wednesday night’s debate in Arizona and 2) Friday’s economic speech in Detroit.

*** Campaign cash drying up? For Romney, what’s also at stake at next week’s Michigan primary is whether or not his campaign funds begin to dry up. Yesterday, the Romney campaign reported raising $6.5 million in primary funds for the month of January. Yet more importantly, its burn rate was more than 287% (spending $18 million-plus last month, versus raising $6.5 million), and it now has $7.7 million in the bank (compared with President Obama’s nearly $76 million). This begs the question: When will we start seeing Romney writing checks to his campaign, like we saw in 2007-2008? In fact, has he already written the check? (We won’t know that until March 20, the next reporting period.) Here are the other fundraising hauls for January: Gingrich $5.6 million ($1.8 cash on hand), Paul $4.5 million ($1.6 cash on hand), and Santorum $4.5 million (nearly $280k cash on hand). And on Friday, we found out Obama raked in $11.9 million in January, with the DNC and other committees bringing in an additional $17.2 million.
Read the rest here.

My take: Romney urgently needs to put a couple states in the "win" column.  Michigan, his native state and one where his father was a very popular governor is a must win.  If Romney loses Michigan and especially if he also loses in AZ his campaign will be in deep trouble and we will be entering uncharted political waters for the GOP. It's way to soon to be predicting a brokered convention, but a Romney defeat in MI and AZ would increase the possibility of such an event.

Supreme Court to hear affirmative action case

Updated at 12:08 p.m. ET: WASHINGTON -- In a potentially momentous case, the Supreme Court will once again confront the issue of race in university admissions in an appeal brought by a white student denied a spot at the flagship campus of the University of Texas.

The court said Tuesday it will return to the issue of affirmative action in higher education for the first time since its 2003 decision endorsing the use of race as a factor in freshmen admissions. This time around, a more conservative court is being asked to jettison that ruling and outlaw affirmative action in the university setting.

A broad ruling in favor of the student, Abigail Fisher, could threaten affirmative action programs at many of the nation's public and private universities, said Vanderbilt University law professor Brian Fitzpatrick.
Read the rest here.

Russians revive Ice Age flower from frozen burrow

MOSCOW (AP) -- It was an Ice Age squirrel's treasure chamber, a burrow containing fruit and seeds that had been stuck in the Siberian permafrost for over 30,000 years. From the fruit tissues, a team of Russian scientists managed to resurrect an entire plant in a pioneering experiment that paves the way for the revival of other species.

The Silene stenophylla is the oldest plant ever to be regenerated, the researchers said, and it is fertile, producing white flowers and viable seeds.

The experiment proves that permafrost serves as a natural depository for ancient life forms, said the Russian researchers, who published their findings in Tuesday's issue of "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" of the United States.
Read the rest here.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Why The Euro Was A Bad Idea

1) Take all your money, all your immediate relative’s money and all your extended family’s money.

2) Put it into a single bank account and issue everyone a checkbook. Also co-sign on all their current and future debts.

3) How long do you think it will take before someone starts taking advantage of the situation?
-Craig R from here.

Hugo Chavez Facing Electoral Revolt

On Feb. 12, Henrique Capriles Radonski, a 39-year-old Venezuelan state governor, won a primary election to become the opposition’s candidate against Hugo Chavez in October’s presidential election. He won 1.8 million of an astonishing 3 million votes — double the turnout predicted by most analysts.

The next day, Capriles, a devout Catholic, was greeted by a commentary on the government-run Web site of Venezuelan National Radio titled “The Enemy Is Zionism.” Capriles, it explained, is the descendant of Jews. (In fact, his grandmother was a Holocaust survivor who emigrated from Poland to Venezuela.)

“In order to understand the interests embodied” by Capriles, the commentary declared, “it’s important to know what is Zionism, the Israeli ideology that he sneakily represents. . . . It is, without doubt, an ideology of terror, of the most putrefied sentiments of humanity; its supposedly patriotic impetus is based in greed.” And so on.

“Zionism,” it concludes, “is owner of the majority of the financial institutions of the planet, controls almost 80 percent of the world economy and virtually all of the communications industry, in addition to maintaining decision-making positions within the U.S. Department of State and European powers.”

Thus began the latest — and what will surely be the ugliest — political campaign by Chavez, a ruler who has served as a friend in need to Moammar Gaddafi, Bashar al-Assad and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — and who now is facing his own homegrown democratic uprising. But Venezuela’s spring differs from those of Libya, Syria or Iran: Instead of pouring into the streets, Venezuelans — fed up with the chaos and violence of Chavez’s 13 years in power — are marching to the polls and trying to restore the country’s crippled and compromised institutions.

The opposition Capriles now heads has learned lessons that might benefit some of the revolutionaries of the Middle East. It tried and failed to oust Chavez with mass demonstrations and strikes; it foolishly boycotted elections it believed would be unfair; it indulged in endless internal quarrels. The result was the entrenchment of a strongman who has thoroughly wrecked what was once Latin America’s richest country and who now presides over the highest inflation and murder rates in the Western Hemisphere, shortages of basic goods and power, and a drug-trafficking industry whose kingpins include the defense minister.
Read the rest here.

Ron Paul raises $4.5 Million

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) continues to raise money at a strong clip in the 2012 presidential race, pulling in $4.5 million in January, according to a person close to Paul’s campaign who divulged the information only on the condition of anonymity.

The fundraising number, which the campaign will announce later today, shows the Texas congressman increased his fundraising pace slightly as the actual contests began. Paul raised $13.3 million in the fourth quarter, which was second-best clip in the GOP presidential race behind Mitt Romney.
Read the rest here.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Iran halts oil shipments to Britain, France

Iran’s oil ministry said Sunday that it has cut off oil exports to France and Britain in what officials described as the first in a series of punitive measures targeting “hostile” European countries for supporting economic sanctions against the Islamic republic.

The mostly symbolic move appeared aimed at blunting the political impact within Iran of a European oil embargo set to begin in the summer. Iranian officials have sought to play down the loss of the country’s European customers, who collectively consume about 18 percent of Iran’s petroleum exports.
Read the rest here.

Had to fill up today...


John Fairfax, Gambler, Pirate and Adventurer Dies at 74

He crossed the Atlantic because it was there, and the Pacific because it was also there.

He made both crossings in a rowboat because it, too, was there, and because the lure of sea, spray and sinew, and the history-making chance to traverse two oceans without steam or sail, proved irresistible.

In 1969, after six months alone on the Atlantic battling storms, sharks and encroaching madness, John Fairfax, who died this month at 74, became the first lone oarsman in recorded history to traverse any ocean.

In 1972, he and his girlfriend, Sylvia Cook, sharing a boat, became the first people to row across the Pacific, a yearlong ordeal during which their craft was thought lost. (The couple survived the voyage, and so, for quite some time, did their romance.)

Both journeys were the subject of fevered coverage by the news media. They inspired two memoirs by Mr. Fairfax, “Britannia: Rowing Alone Across the Atlantic” and, with Ms. Cook, “Oars Across the Pacific,” both published in the early 1970s.

Mr. Fairfax died on Feb. 8 at his home in Henderson, Nev., near Las Vegas. The apparent cause was a heart attack, said his wife, Tiffany. A professional astrologer, she is his only immediate survivor. Ms. Cook, who became an upholsterer and spent the rest of her life quietly on dry land (though she remained a close friend of Mr. Fairfax), lives outside London.

For all its bravura, Mr. Fairfax’s seafaring almost pales beside his earlier ventures. Footloose and handsome, he was a flesh-and-blood character out of Graham Greene, with more than a dash of Hemingway and Ian Fleming shaken in.

At 9, he settled a dispute with a pistol. At 13, he lit out for the Amazon jungle.

At 20, he attempted suicide-by-jaguar. Afterward he was apprenticed to a pirate. To please his mother, who did not take kindly to his being a pirate, he briefly managed a mink farm, one of the few truly dull entries on his otherwise crackling résumé, which lately included a career as a professional gambler.
Read the rest here.

Peter van Uhm: Why I chose a gun

A brief but powerful speech. Click here to watch it in full. (I tried to embed it but it does not fit on the blog and tinkering with the code failed to fix it.)

When a county runs off a cliff

ONE county jail here is so crowded that some inmates sleep on the floor, while the other county jail, a few miles down the road, sits empty.

There is no money for the second one anymore.

The county roads here need paving, and the tax collector needs help.

There is no money for them, either.

There is no money for a lot of things around here, not since Jefferson County, population 658,000, went bankrupt last fall. There is no money for holiday D.U.I. checkpoints, litter patrols or overtime pay at the courthouse. None for crews to pull weeds or pick up road kill — not even when, as happened recently, an unlucky cow was hit near the town of Wylam.

“We don’t do that any more,” E. Wayne Sullivan, director of the roads and transportation department, said of such roadside cleanup.

This is life today in Jefferson County — Bankrupt, U.S.A. For all the talk in Washington about taxes and deficits, here is a place where government finances, and government itself, have simply broken down. The county, which includes the city of Birmingham, is drowning under $4 billion in debt, the legacy of a big sewer project and corrupt financial dealings that sent 17 people to prison.

If you want to take a broad view, the trouble really began with the Constitutional Convention of the State of Alabama in 1901. The document that emerged there — written to empower business interests and disenfranchise African-Americans and poor whites — gives towns and counties little authority over local issues. Local taxing power rests with the state, though state lawmakers are loath to wield it today, in an age of anti-tax populism. Last summer, the Supreme Court of Alabama struck down a tax that was a crucial source of revenue for Jefferson County, finally pushing the county over the brink.

Officials here have only begun to grapple with the implications of life under Chapter 9 of the federal bankruptcy code, a municipal form of debt adjustment, rather than reorganization or liquidation. Until now, the most famous example was Orange County, Calif., which filed for Chapter 9 in 1994, after risky investments went horribly wrong. Many local governments are struggling to pay their bills these days, but hardly any have filed for bankruptcy. Notable exceptions include Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, Vallejo, Calif., and Central Falls, R.I.

“This is really a journey without a road map,” said John S. Young, the civil engineer who was appointed by an Alabama court to figure out how to fix Jefferson County’s sewer system. Today he is that project’s official receiver in name only: a federal bankruptcy court has suspended his powers, ruling that the federal bankruptcy law trumps state laws that protect bondholders.

Ordinary citizens can’t do much at this point. Jefferson County has even canceled municipal elections scheduled for this August. It seems that there’s no money for voting booths, either.
Read the rest here.

Judgment Sunday

The Sunday of the Last Judgment (Meatfare Sunday)

Friday, February 17, 2012


A remote-controlled aircraft owned by an animal rights group was reportedly shot down near Broxton Bridge Plantation Sunday.

Steve Hindi, president of SHARK (SHowing Animals Respect and Kindness), said his group was preparing to launch its Mikrokopter drone to video what he called a live pigeon shoot on Sunday when law enforcement officers and an attorney claiming to represent the privately-owned plantation near Ehrhardt tried to stop the aircraft from flying.

"It didn't work; what SHARK was doing was perfectly legal," Hindi said in a news release. "Once they knew nothing was going to stop us, the shooting stopped and the cars lined up to leave."

He said the animal rights group decided to send the drone up anyway.

"Seconds after it hit the air, numerous shots rang out," Hindi said in the release. "As an act of revenge for us shutting down the pigeon slaughter, they had shot down our copter."

He claimed the shooters were "in tree cover" and "fled the scene on small motorized vehicles."
Read the rest here.

In Russia, Putin allies sharpen anti-American attacks ahead of elections

MOSCOW — A nasty spate of anti-Americanism set off by Vladimir V. Putin has grown into waves of attacks aimed at the new American ambassador and Russian opposition leaders, raising questions about the future of U.S.-Russian relations.

The attacks started just before the December parliamentary elections and have intensified as the March 4 presidential vote approaches. Although widely viewed as aimed primarily at a domestic audience, they have grown shriller and more aggressive, provoking debate about whether Russia is deliberately giving a cold shoulder to President Obama’s effort to promote more productive relations.
Read the rest here.

New Ethics panel members named to probe Rep. Maxine Waters after recusals

A half-dozen members of the House Ethics Committee have recused themselves from the troubled investigation of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and been replaced by a new team, a sign that the stalled probe is set to restart.

Waters has faced scrutiny since 2009 over whether she improperly sought federal aid for OneUnited, a bank in which her husband had a financial stake. The Ethics panel has been riven by infighting, as Republican and Democratic members and aides accused each other of mishandling the investigation and Waters, who has maintained her innocence, has demanded the case be dismissed.

Last year, the committee hired veteran defense lawyer Billy Martin Jr. to conduct an outside review of the probe. In a letter Friday to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), six committee members said Martin had found no evidence of any “actual bias or partiality” by the lawmakers, but they were voluntarily recusing themselves from the case anyway to “eliminate the possibility of questions being raised” and “move this matter forward.”

Waters’s office had not provided comment on the recusal as of this posting
Read the rest here.

Ex-Mormon wants to give Romney a headache

SALT LAKE CITY — Mitt Romney has major headaches named Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.

This month, he also had Helen Radkey.

At 1:55 p.m. on Feb. 8, Radkey, an excommunicated Mormon who spends her days combing through databases at the church’s Family History Library, ­e-mailed Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, named for the famed Nazi-hunter.

“FYI, discovered today: Posthumous baptisms for the parents of Simon Wiesen­thal,” Radkey wrote. “I am collecting evidence, which will be e-mailed to you, if requested, as long as there is a public stink.”

The Wiesenthal Center obliged, and a week later, Radkey followed with the revelation that Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor, was also listed in the private Mormon databases as “ ‘ready’ for posthumous rites.” This appeared to be a violation of the spirit of the Mormon agreement with Jewish groups not to posthumously baptize Holocaust victims and led to Wiesel’s public appeal to Romney to demand that his church stick to its word. All the reports credited Radkey, an independent researcher in Salt Lake City, as the force behind the revelations.

Radkey, an eccentric and familiar face at the church’s sprawling genealogical archive here, has a knack for notoriety.
Read the rest here.

Museum Robbed at Greece's Ancient Olympia

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Two masked gunmen stormed into a small museum at the birthplace of the ancient Olympics in southern Greece on Friday, smashing display cases with hammers and making off with dozens of antiquities up to 3,200 years old, authorities said

It was the second major museum theft in as many months in debt-crippled Greece, and a culture ministry unionist said spending cuts have compromised security at hundreds of museums and ancient sites across the country. With unemployment at 21 percent and Greece's economy in its fifth year of recession, crime, poverty and homeless rates also have been increasing.
Read the rest here.

Congress passes unfunded payroll tax cut extention

Updated at 1:35 pm ET - By a vote of 60 to 36, the Senate passed a bill Friday to keep the Social Security payroll tax at its lower 4.2 percent rate and to extend unemployment benefits.

Republican leaders were split on the measure, with GOP Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky voting for it, but GOP Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona voting against it.

Forty-six Democrats and 14 Republicans voted for the bill, while five Democrats and 31 Republicans voted against it.

The Congressional Budget Office said the bill would increase federal deficits by $89.3 billion over the next ten years.
Read the rest here.

What's another $89 Billion?

Police seize $6 trillion of fake T-bonds

POTENZA, Italy — Italian police said on Friday they had seized about $6 trillion of fake U.S. Treasury bonds in Switzerland, and issued arrest warrants for eight people accused of international fraud and other financial crimes.

The operation, co-ordinated by prosecutors from the southern Italian city of Potenza, was carried out by Italian and Swiss authorities after a year-long investigation, an Italian police source said.

The fake securities, more than a third of U.S. national debt, were seized in January from a Swiss trust company where they were held in three large trunks.
Read the rest here.

Easy tip off for those in the know. The United States more or less banned the issue of "bearer bonds" back in the early 1980's. There may be a handful still out there that predate the ban, but most would have long since matured or been "called." One can still occasionally buy beaer instruments overseas, but not of US stocks or bonds.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

RIP: Gary Carter

Hall of Fame catcher and hero of the 1986 World Series Gary Carter has died.  He was 57.  Memory eternal.

"Underwear bomber" gets life in prison

DETROIT -- Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up a Detroit-bound international flight with and underwear bomb on Christmas Day 2009 on behalf of al-Qaida, was sentenced to life in prison without parole Thursday.

The hearing before federal Judge Nancy Edmunds was an open platform for Abdulmutallab and passengers and crew of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 who wanted to speak.

Abdulmutallab, 25, the son of a wealthy Nigerian banker, pleaded guilty in October and admitted he was on a suicide mission for al-Qaida when he tried to detonate explosive chemicals hidden in his underwear minutes before the plane landed at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.
Read the rest here.

More on Maine

Looks like there was more to the story on Maine than I originally thought. The Young Fogey has the details here. I think Dr. Paul should ask for a recount.

Who is the most underrated American President?

The Washington Post asks the question here.  These much-praised presidents are off-limits: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.

My vote goes to Chester Arthur.  Little was expected of him when he succeeded President Garfield after his assassination in 1881.  But he became the best of the Gilded Age presidents.  He was scrupulously honest in an era when this was not normative in public officials. 
  • He infuriated his party by pushing through the first civil service reform (the Pendelton Act).
  • He vetoed the Chinese Exclusion Act for being the racist piece of trash that it was (his veto was overridden).
  • And he began rebuilding the Navy which had been allowed to largely disintegrate after the Civil War, by constructing modern steam powered warships made of steel and iron.  He is quite probably the father of the modern American Navy.
It is also worth noting that before he entered politics he was a well known New York lawyer who made a name for himself by leading a lawsuit in the 1850's that resulted in the desegregation of New York City's public trollies.

U.S. Jobless Claims Are Lowest Since 2008

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell to the lowest point in almost four years last week, the latest signal that the job market is steadily improving.

In other economic news, a rise in building permits suggested that the construction industry was growing confident that more buyers were ready to come off the sidelines, and the latest data on wholesale prices signaled that inflation remained largely in check.
Read the rest here.

Birth Control, Bishops and Religious Authority

The Obama administration’s ruling requiring certain Catholic institutions like hospitals and universities to offer health insurance covering birth control prompted a furious response from the Catholic bishops. The bishops argued that this was a violation of conscience since birth control is contrary to teachings of the Catholic Church, as expressed in Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae.”

What interests me as a philosopher — and a Catholic — is that virtually all parties to this often acrimonious debate have assumed that the bishops are right about this, that birth control is contrary to “the teachings of the Catholic Church.” The only issue is how, if at all, the government should “respect” this teaching.

As critics repeatedly point out, 98 percent of sexually active American Catholic women practice birth control, and 78 percent of Catholics think a “good Catholic” can reject the bishops’ teaching on birth control. The response from the church, however, has been that, regardless of what the majority of Catholics do and think, the church’s teaching is that birth control is morally wrong. The church, in the inevitable phrase, “is not a democracy.” What the church teaches is what the bishops (and, ultimately, the pope, as head of the bishops) say it does.

But is this true? The answer requires some thought about the nature and basis of religious authority. Ultimately the claim is that this authority derives from God. But since we live in a human world in which God does not directly speak to us, we need to ask, Who decides that God has given, say, the Catholic bishops his authority?

It makes no sense to say that the bishops themselves can decide this, that we should accept their religious authority because they say God has given it to them. If this were so, anyone proclaiming himself a religious authority would have to be recognized as one. From where, then, in our democratic, secular society does such recognition properly come? It could, in principle, come from some other authority, like the secular government. But we have long given up the idea (“cujus regio, ejus religio”) that our government can legitimately designate the religious authority in its domain. But if the government cannot determine religious authority, surely no lesser secular power could. Theological experts could tell us what the bishops have taught over the centuries, but this does not tell us whether these teachings have divine authority.

In our democratic society the ultimate arbiter of religious authority is the conscience of the individual believer. It follows that there is no alternative to accepting the members of a religious group as themselves the only legitimate source of the decision to accept their leaders as authorized by God. They may be wrong, but their judgment is answerable to no one but God. In this sense, even the Catholic Church is a democracy.
Read the rest here.

Wow. This is a pretty breathtaking article. The state should cease to recognize the Pope as the head of the Catholic Church and basically overthrow its 2000 years of doctrine and ecclesiology.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

SF audit finds foreclosures riddled with errors

An audit by San Francisco county officials of about 400 recent foreclosures there determined that almost all involved either legal violations or suspicious documentation, according to a report released Wednesday.

Anecdotal evidence indicating foreclosure abuse has been plentiful since the mortgage boom turned to bust in 2008. But the detailed and comprehensive nature of the San Francisco findings suggest how pervasive foreclosure irregularities may be across the nation.

The improprieties range from the basic — a failure to warn borrowers that they were in default on their loans as required by law — to the arcane. For example, transfers of many loans in the foreclosure files were made by entities that had no right to assign them and institutions took back properties in auctions even though they had not proved ownership.
Read the rest here.

Russian Church fundraises for Orthodox believers in Kosovo

Ecumenical Patriarchate and Constantinople Patriarch Bartholomew support the territorial integrity of Georgia and recognize Abkhazia as canonical territory of the Georgian Apostolic Orthodox Church. Journalists were told about this in the Patriarchate of Georgia after the visit of the delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Tbilisi.

This position was voiced by the delegation at a meeting with the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II who also has the rank of Metropolitan of Bichvinta (Pitsunda) and Tskhum-Abkhazia. The meeting was held on the evening of February 14th. Today, the delegation returned to Istanbul.

Earlier, Patriarch Bartholomew received a delegation of the so-called "Holy Metropolia of Abkhazia" (one of the two conflicting groups of Abkhazian dissenters) and after that Sukhumi started to make claims about future recognition of "independent Abkhazian Church" by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Affluent, Born Abroad and Choosing Public Schools

Miriam and Christian Rengier, a German couple moving to New York, visited some private elementary schools in Manhattan last spring in search of a place for their son. They immediately noticed the absence of ethnic diversity, and the chauffeurs ferrying children to the door.

And then, at one school, their guide showed them the cafeteria.

“The kids were able to choose between seven different lunches: sushi and macrobiotics and whatever,” Ms. Rengier recalled. “And I said, ‘What if I don’t want my son to choose from seven different lunches?’ And she looked at me like I was an idiot.”

For the Rengiers, the decision was clear: Their son would go to public school.

“It was not the question if we could afford it or not,” said Ms. Rengier, whose husband was transferred to the city because of his job as a lawyer and tax consultant. “It was a question of whether it was real life or not.”
Read the rest here.

Warren Buffet's advice on stocks and bonds

There’s been a bunch of press lately about how Warren Buffet dislikes bonds (and gold) and loves stocks. In particular, he warns on bonds and inflation being a bad combination. Yes, they are. That’s why you shouldn’t own just bonds (or any single asset). He also advises (according to this article which may be wrong) that investors be 100% in stocks. Yikes!

Well I thought it would be interesting to crank up and see how he’s done with his company Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A). Going back as far as allows for these funds (1999), we can see how he compares against the maligned US Treasury Long Term Bonds (Vanguard’s version), Vanguard Total Bond Market, and Short Term Treasury Fund also from Vanguard (interest and dividends included):
Berkshire Hathaway vs. Long Term Treasuries vs. Vanguard Total Bond vs. Short Term Treasuries
Read the rest here.

Ooops... That tarnishes someone's star.

Santorum ties Romney in recent polls

Several recent polls show Rick Santorum in a statistical tie with Mitt Romney among likely Republican voters.  Another recent poll shows Santorum leading Romney slightly in Michigan, Romney's native state and one where his father George Romney was a popular governor.  For the third time in the campaign season Newt Gingrich's roller coaster poll numbers have plunged into the low to middle teens.  Ron Paul is holding steady at around 12-15% in national GOP polls.

New Las Vegas Museum focuses on city's founding fathers... the mob

The promoters of Las Vegas’ newest museum would like you to say hello to their little friends. Opening on Feb. 14, The Mob Museum chronicles the lives — and often gruesome deaths — of Al Capone, “Bugsy” Siegel and a rogue’s gallery of crooks, hoods and Mafioso.

“You can’t tell the story of Las Vegas without talking about organized crime,” said Jonathan Ullman, the museum’s executive director. “It’s part of the genesis of the city as the destination that it became.”

Or, as three-time mayor and former “mob attorney” Oscar Goodman puts it: “Las Vegas is unique. Our founding fathers were alleged mobsters.”
Read the rest here.

Feast of St. Kyril Equal to the Apostles and Enlightener of the Slavs

Saint Cyril Equal of the Apostles, Teacher of the Slavs (Constantine in the schema), and his older brother Methodius (April 6), were Slavs, born in Macedonia in the city of Thessalonica.

St Cyril received the finest of educations, and from the age of fourteen he was raised with the son of the emperor. Later, he was ordained as a priest. Upon his return to Constantinople, he worked as a librarian of the cathedral church, and as a professor of philosophy. St Cyril successfully held debates with iconoclast heretics and with Moslems.

Yearning for solitude, he went to Mount Olympos to his older brother Methodius, but his solitude lasted only a short while. Both brothers were sent by the emperor Michael on a missionary journey to preach Christianity to the Khazars in the year 857. Along the way they stopped at Cherson and discovered the relics of the Hieromartyr Clement of Rome (November 25).

Arriving at the territory of the Khazars, the holy brothers spoke with them about the Christian Faith. Persuaded by the preaching of St Cyril, the Khazar prince together with all his people accepted Christianity. The grateful prince wanted to reward the preachers with rich presents, but they refused this and instead asked the prince to free and send home with them all the Greek captives. St Cyril returned to Constantinople together with 200 such captives set free.

In the year 862 began the chief exploit of the holy brothers. At the request of Prince Rostislav, the emperor sent them to Moravia to preach Christianity in the Slavic language. Sts Cyril and Methodius by a revelation from God compiled a Slavonic alphabet and translated the Gospel, Epistles, the Psalter and many Service books into the Slavonic language. They introduced divine services in Slavonic.

The holy brothers were then summoned to Rome at the invitation of the Roman Pope. Pope Adrian received them with great honor, since they brought with them the relics of the Hieromartyr Clement. Sickly by nature and in poor health, St Cyril soon fell ill from his many labors, and after taking the schema, he died in the year 869 at the age of forty-two. Before his death, he expressed his wish for his brother to continue the Christian enlightenment of the Slavs. St Cyril was buried in the Roman church of St Clement, whose own relics also rest there, brought to Italy from Cherson by the Enlighteners of the Slavs.

Feast of St. Valentine the Presbyter & Great Martyr of Rome

Today is St. Valentine's Day on the Western Church calendar (we commemorate him on July 6th).  Below is an address by Bishop Demetri on the story of St. Valentine the "patron of love."
Each year, the NAC Midwinter Meeting is scheduled to fall on the weekend nearest the 14th of February, and as we all know, Sunday is "Valentine’s Day", as it is called in our secular culture, or as the church would call it "the Feast of St. Valentine."

I would like to spend a few minutes to familiarize ourselves with the life Saint Valentine?

Who was Saint Valentine?

St. Valentine was a priest near Rome in about the year 270 A.D, a time when the church was enduring great persecution. His ministry was to help the Christians to escape this persecution, and to provide them the sacraments, such as marriage, which was outlawed by the Roman Empire at that time. For his belief and practice, St. Valentine was arrested, and imprisoned for his refusal to deny Our Lord and embrace the Roman gods.

While in prison, St. Valentine continued to minister, even witnessing to those who guarded him. One of the guards was a good man who had adopted a blind girl. He asked St. Valentine if his God could help his daughter. Valentine prayed and the girl was miraculously given her sight, demonstrating the power of the One True God. The guard and his whole family, 46 people in all, believed in Christ and were baptized. The emperor was furious about this, so he had St. Valentine beheaded.

St. Valentine’s knew that he could be arrested for his belief and Christian ministry. He knew that refusal to recognize the Roman gods would result in imprisonment. And he knew that if he continued to witness to Christ in the prison he would make his captors angry, and would probably result in his death. But he continued, because he loved the Lord and his fellow humans. He was willing to risk his life in being an instrument in the healing of the blind girl’s infirmity, and in doing so spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to those who needed to hear it.

This is briefly who St. Valentine was.

"Be My Valentine." This is a phrase that conjures up a lot of different images associated with the celebration of Valentine's Day. Cards with hearts and little poems on them. Candy and flowers given to someone one we love. Young and old alike expressing their affection for their sweethearts. February 14th, for our culture, means cards, candy and flowers.

Somehow, this feast of the church has been skewed to include snapshots from pagan mythology, such as cupid, with the focus of the day only on romantic love. For most, it is a shock to hear that this is a day to remember and celebrate the life and martyrdom of a Christian Saint.
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The Strange Career of Voter Suppression

...Conflict over exercising the right to vote has been a longstanding theme in our history. The overarching trend, which we celebrate, has been greater inclusion: property requirements were dropped; racial barriers were formally eliminated; women were enfranchised.

Yet there have always been counter trends. While the franchise expanded during some moments and in some places, it contracted in others, depriving Americans of a right they had once held. Between 1790 and 1850 — the period when property requirements were being dropped — four Northern states disenfranchised African-American voters, and New Jersey halted a 17-year experiment permitting women to vote. During this same period, nine states passed laws excluding “paupers” from political rights.

After Reconstruction, both major political parties attempted to constrict the electorate, albeit in different locales. In the South — as is well known — Democratic state legislatures employed a variety of devices, including literacy tests, poll taxes, “understanding” clauses and, eventually, Democratic primaries restricted to whites. As a result, African-Americans were largely excluded from electoral participation from the 1890s until the 1960s.

In the North, similar, if less draconian, legal changes, generally sponsored by Republicans, targeted (among others) the millions of immigrant workers pouring into the country. In 1921, for example, New York State adopted an English-language literacy requirement for voters that remained in force (and was enforced) for decades. Almost invariably, these new limits on the franchise were fueled by partisan interests and ethnic or racial tensions; they were embraced by respectable Americans, like the eminent historian Francis Parkman, who had come to view universal suffrage as a “questionable blessing.”
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Monday, February 13, 2012

China's insidious reach

...I arrived in the United States a month ago, thinking I had escaped the reach of Beijing, only to realize that the Chinese government’s shadow continues to be omnipresent. Several U.S. universities that I have contacted dare not invite me for a lecture, as they cooperate with China on many projects. If you are a scholar of Chinese studies who has criticized the Communist Party, it would be impossible for you to be involved in research projects with the Chinese-funded Confucius Institute, and you may even be denied a Chinese visa. Conversely, if you praise the Communist Party, not only would you receive ample research funding but you might also be invited to visit China and even received by high-level officials. Western academic freedom has been distorted by invisible hands.

I believe that China is a far greater threat than the former Soviet Union ever was; unfortunately, the West lacks visionary politicians, such as Ronald Reagan, to stand up to this threat. President Obama might perceive the Chinese Communist Party as a tiger that does not bite and, hence, is looking forward to Vice President Xi Jinping’s visit this week. Will Obama, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, openly request that China release Liu Xiaobo, a Nobel Peace laureate imprisoned by the Communist Party? Why did Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have the courage to meet with Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi but not to meet with Liu? Is it because Burma is weak, while China is strong?
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